Thursday, 28 April 2011

The facetiousness of (?English) intellectual conversation

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In days when I depended more on the physical company of other people, I was endemically frustrated by the facetiousness of conversation among people of my acquaintance.

In theory, there were plenty of well-informed people with similar interests around me; in practice the conversation was unrelentingly superficial and continually attempting wit, jokes - a light and unattached attitude to life was prevalent.

I found this diet of daily discourse profoundly unsatisfying, and would travel the length of the country for a few hours of 'deep' talk with one of the handful of friends who were able and willing to provide it.

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Whether this is specifically English, and whether things have always been like this - I don't know.

But things are still the same - as far as I can judge.

Intellectual life is still populated almost exclusively by people who never drop their facade of unseriousness - indeed, who have perhaps become the facade such that there is nothing to drop. They are not 'hiding' anything; what you see is what there is.

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This applies even to writers, scholars, scientists whose work is interesting - whose work I admire and have benefited-from; many of them come across as utterly superficial people.

Specifically, the intellect seems to be dissociated from the emotions - so that there is no depth: nothing behind the surface rationality.

The facial expression, the eyes, are 'glassy' - even while the words may be eloquent.  

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I wonder, too, whether this could be a class thing, and an hereditary thing. My ancestors are 'working class', and I find that social conversation among people whose ancestors are solidly upper middle class generally strikes me as afflicted with this species of apparently inescapable triviality.

Presumably I strike them as dull, naive and over-serious.

But there it is!

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At the end of the day, the general intellectual discourse among English intellectuals is - I find, on the whole - disappointingly annoying and uninteresting: even at the highest level, among people that I would expect or hope to be enlightening.

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Professional, specialist conversation can, by contrast, be very interesting; and that was the basis for most of the best types of discourse; at least it *was*, until professional conversation became afflicted by political correctness, dishonesty, and fear.

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